Photo of Benjamin ZiemannProfessor Benjamin Ziemann

M.A. (Freie Univ., Berlin), Ph.D. (Bielefeld), FRHistS, Habilitation (Bochum)

Professor of Modern German History

19th & 20th c. German social, cultural & political history; peace research

+44 (0)114 22 22585 | Jessop West 3.14

Semester Two 2016/17: On Research Leave



Benjamin Ziemann has gained his PhD from the University of Bielefeld and joined the department in 2005. He has authored, edited and co-edited 15 books. In addition, he has published more than 100 journal articles and book-chapters. His articles appeared in leading peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of Contemporary History, Contemporary European History, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, German History, Central European History, Historische Zeitschrift and Archiv für Sozialgeschichte.

Benjamin's research covers a broad range of topics in German history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and in post-1945 Western European history. He is a renowned expert in the comparative military, social and cultural history of the First World War, and continues to conduct research on the First World War and on mass-violence in the twentieth century more generally. In his second monograph, praised by one reviewer as ‘one of the most important studies in contemporary history published in recent years’, he has analysed the process of the ‘scientisation of the social’, taking the Catholic Church in the Federal Republic as an example. One of Benjamin Ziemann’s long standing research interests is peace history. He is director of the Centre for Peace History at the Department of History, founded in 2009.

His current work is a biography of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a navy officer and submarine commander during the First World who became a Protestant pastor and figurehead of the Confessing Church during the Third Reich. In this book, under contract with Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Benjamin Ziemann will not only offer the first primary-souce based account of the turbulent life of Niemöller, including his eight years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau Concentration Camps from 1938 to 1945 and his tireless campaigning for peace and disarmament in the decades since 1945. Through the prism of Niemöller’s life, the book will also offer a reflection on continuities in Germany’s twentieth century history and contested issues such as nationalism, religion, guilt and morality.

Benjamin Ziemann has received numerous grants and fellowships, among others from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, the Volkswagen Foundation and the Ministry for Schools, Science and Research in North Rhine-Westphalia. He has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Tübingen and a Visiting Scholar at Humboldt-University Berlin, at the University of York, the University of Bielefeld and at the Forum for Contemporary History at the University of Oslo.

Professional Roles

From 2002 to 2012, he has served as a review editor for peace history and military history for the mailing list H-Soz-u-Kult, a part of H-Net. He is serving on the editorial boards of the journals Peace & Change, First World War Studies and of the Swiss Journal for Religious and Cultural History (Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions und Kulturgeschichte). In 2011, Benjamin has joined the editors of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed history journals in Europe.


Current Research

Benjamin is currently embarking on a new project, a biographical study of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a former U-boat captain and Protestant minister who was one of the figureheads of the ‘Confessing Church’ under the Nazi Regime. In this book, Benjamin will explore changes and continuities of nationalist Protestantism in Germany across the twentieth century.

Benjamin is teaching late nineteenth and twentieth century German history and post-war Western European history. He is currently offering modules on Imperial Germany (at level two) and a third-year Special Subject on the history of the Weimar Republic. He is also teaching an MA module entitled ‘Voices of the Great War: Violence and Experiences in Great Britain and Germany, 1914-1919’, and is teaching on the core module for the MA in Twentieth-Century History. He welcomes graduate and research students working on any aspect of German social, political and cultural history since the late nineteenth century, on the history of the First World War, and students interested in the history of protest movements in Western Europe since 1945, and peace movements in particular.

Research Supervision

Benjamin has supervised Meryn McLaren, who completed her PhD on 'Refugee Camps in the Federal Republic, 1945-1960. Community Building and Integration' in 2009. Meryn has won the essay prize of the German History Society for her article 'Out of the Huts Emerged a Settled People': Community-Building in West German Refugee Camps', published in German History 28 (2010), and her monograph on refugees in the early Federal Republic is forthcoming with Palgrave. Benjamin has also acted as external supervisor for Daniel Gerster, who gained his PhD from the European University Institute in Florence in 2011 with a book on changing Catholic discourses on war and peace in the Federal Republic.

He is currently supervising Brendan Murphy, who is working on a study entitled ‘Killing in the German Army: Organizing and Surviving Combat in the Great War.'

Further information on research opportunities within the department.


Selected Publications

Understanding the Imaginary War. Culture, thought and nuclear conflict, 1945–90 (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2016)

Understanding The Imaginary War CoverUnderstanding the Imaginary War. Culture, thought and nuclear conflict, 1945–90 (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2016)

This collection offers a fresh interpretation of the Cold War as an imaginary war, a conflict that had imaginations of nuclear devastation as one of its main battlegrounds. The book includes survey chapters and case studies on Western Europe, the USSR, Japan and the USA. Looking at various strands of intellectual debate and at different media, from documentary film to fiction, the chapters demonstrate the difficulties to make the unthinkable and unimaginable - nuclear apocalypse - imaginable. The book will be required reading for everyone who wants to understand the cultural dynamics of the Cold War through the angle of its core ingredient, nuclear weapons.

Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871-1918 (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 2016)

Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871-1918 coverDas Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871-1918 (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 2016)

This is a short history of Imperial Germany from 1871 to 1918 in German language. The booklet charts developments in politics, society and culture, discusses the place of the first German nation state in the context of globalization, and describes key political turning points and the ultimate collapse of the authoritarian state during the First World War.

Encounters with Modernity. The Catholic Church in West Germany, 1945-1975 (New York: Berghahn, 2014)

Ziemann Encounters book coverEncounters with Modernity. The Catholic Church in West Germany, 1945-1975 (New York: Berghahn, 2014)

During the three decades from 1945 to 1975, the Catholic Church in West Germany employed a broad range of methods from empirical social research. Statistics, opinion polling, and organizational sociology, as well as psychoanalysis and other approaches from the “psy sciences,” were debated and introduced in pastoral care. In adopting these methods for their own work, bishops, parish clergy, and pastoral sociologists tried to open the church up to modernity in a rapidly changing society. In the process, they contributed to the reform agenda of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Through its analysis of the intersections between organized religion and applied social sciences, this award-winning book offers fascinating insights into the trajectory of the Catholic Church in postwar Germany.

Gewalt im Ersten Weltkrieg (Klartext, 2013)

Ziemann Gewalt book coverGewalt im Ersten Weltkrieg (Klartext, 2013)

Der Erste Weltkrieg brachte neue Formen der Massengewalt. Soldaten töteten und verwundeten einander in bislang nicht gekanntem Ausmaß. Zugleich versuchten sie, das Feuer der Waffen zu überleben oder sich dem Töten zu entziehen. Manche verweigerten sich ganz der Gewalt. Erst in der Zusammenschau von Töten, Überleben und Verweigern, so die These dieses Bandes, werden Formen und Ausmaß der Gewalt im Ersten Weltkrieg verständlich. Benjamin Ziemann bietet eine anschauliche und abgewogene Einführung in die wichtigsten Fragen und Themen, welche die Gewaltpraxis der deutschen Soldaten des Ersten Weltkrieges aufwirft. Die Kapitel des Bandes verbinden die systematische Analyse von Gewalt- und Verweigerungsformen mit biografischen Fallstudien zur Beobachtung und Verarbeitung der Gewalt. Damit wird nachvollziehbar, wie die Massengewalt des Ersten Weltkrieges die deutsche Gesellschaft prägte.

Contested Commemorations. Republican War Veterans and Weimar Political Culture (Cambridge: CUP, 2013)

Benjamin Ziemann Contested Commemorations book coverContested Commemorations. Republican War Veterans and Weimar Political Culture (Cambridge: CUP, 2013)

This innovative study of remembrance in Weimar Germany analyses how experiences and memories of the Great War were transformed along political lines after 1918. Examining the symbolism, language and performative power of public commemoration, Benjamin Ziemann reveals how individual recollections fed into the public narrative of the experience of war. Challenging conventional wisdom that nationalist narratives dominated commemoration, this book demonstrates that Social Democrat war veterans participated in the commemoration of the war at all levels: supporting the 'no more war' movement, mourning the fallen at war memorials and demanding a politics of international solidarity. It describes how the moderate Socialist Left related the legitimacy of the Republic to their experiences in the Imperial army and acknowledged the military defeat of 1918 as a moment of liberation. This is the first comprehensive analysis of war remembrances in post-war Germany and a radical reassessment of the democratic potential of the Weimar Republic.

(with Bernd Ulrich, eds.) German Soldiers in the Great War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2010)

Ziemann Soldiers Cover(with Bernd Ulrich, eds.) German Soldiers in the Great War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2010)

This vivid selection of first-hand accounts and other wartime documents sheds new light on the experiences of German frontline soldiers during the First World War. It reveals in authentic detail the perceptions and emotions of ordinary soldiers that have been covered up by the smokescreen of official wartime propaganda with its talk of ‘heroism’ and ‘patriotic sacrifice’. Over 200 mostly archival documents are featured in the selection, including wartime letters, military despatches and orders, extracts from diaries, newspaper articles and booklets, medical reports and photographs. This fascinating primary source material provides the first comprehensive insight into the German frontline experiences of the Great War published in English.

Sozialgeschichte der Religion. Von der Reformation bis zur Gegenwart [Social History of Religion. From the Reformation to the Present], (Frankfurt/M. New York: Campus 2009) Ziemann Religion CoverSozialgeschichte der Religion. Von der Reformation bis zur Gegenwart [Social History of Religion. From the Reformation to the Present], (Frankfurt/M. New York: Campus 2009)
Katholische Kirche und Sozialwissenschaften 1945-1975 [The Catholic Church and the Social Sciences 1945-1975], Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2007 (english translation forthcoming with Berghahn Books)

Ziemann Katholische CoverKatholische Kirche und Sozialwissenschaften 1945-1975 [The Catholic Church and the Social Sciences 1945-1975], Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2007 (english translation forthcoming with Berghahn Books)

Since 1945 the Catholic Church has availed itself of a number of social-scientific methods to help it fill the spaces vacated by the general retreat of church influence, to demoscopically understand the feelings of its members, and to adapt the church´s organisational structure to modern conditions for pastoral care. Concepts of group dynamics and therapeutic approaches have shown the way to discover the religious attitudes of the individual. With the help of the social sciences the consequences of functional differentiation can be studied as “secularisation” without which a new rationality in church behaviour would not be possible. The reception and the practical application of these methods within the church is just one example of the “scientification” of all things social. The social sciences have been chosen to help spread the gospel in a new fashion, but they may also end up endangering the church´s beliefs. The historical analysis of this process allows us fascinating insights into the history of religion and the church from the mid-20th century on. At the same time it represents a critical look at the perhaps too easily obtained successes in Germany and a new interpretation of the events after 1945 as a period of “dangerous modernity”.

War Experiences in Rural Germany, 1914-1923, (Oxford. New York: Berg, 2007)

Ziemann War CoverWar Experiences in Rural Germany, 1914-1923, (Oxford. New York: Berg, 2007)

World War I was a uniquely devastating total war that surpassed all previous conflicts for its destruction. But what was the reality like on the ground, for both the soldiers on the front-lines and the women on the homefront?Drawing on intimate firsthand accounts in diaries and letters, War Experiences in Rural Germany examines this question in detail and challenges some strongly held assumptions about the Great War. The author makes the controversial case for the blurring of 'front' and 'homefront'. He shows that through the constant exchange of letters and frequent furloughs, rural soldiers maintained a high degree of contact with their home lives. In addition, the author provides a more nuanced interpretation of the alleged brutalizing effect of the war experience, suggesting that it was by far not as complete as has been previously understood. This pathbreaking book paints a vivid picture of the dynamics of total war on rural communities, from the calling up of troops to the reintegration of veterans into society.

(co-editor, with Miriam Dobson), Reading Primary Sources, London: Routledge (London: Routledge, 2008)

Ziemann Reading Cover(co-editor, with Miriam Dobson), Reading Primary Sources, London: Routledge (London: Routledge, 2008)

How does the historian approach primary sources? How do interpretations differ? How can they be used to write history?

Reading Primary Sources goes a long way to providing answers for these questions. In the first part of this unique volume, the chapters give an overview of both traditional and new methodological approaches to the use of sources, analyzing the way that these have changed over time. The second part gives an overview of twelve different types of written sources, including letters, opinion polls, surveillance reports, diaries, novels, newspapers, and dreams, taking into account the huge expansion in the range of written primary sources used by historians over the last thirty years. This book is an up-to-date introduction into the historical context of these different genres, the ways they should be read, the possible insights and results these sources offer and the pitfalls of their interpretation. All of the chapters push the reader beyond a conventional understanding of source texts as mere "reflections" of a given reality, instead fostering an understanding of how each of the various genres has to be seen as a medium in its own right.

Taking examples of sources from around the globe, and also including a student-friendly further reading section, this is the perfect companion for every student of history who wants to engage with sources.

(editor) Peace Movements in Western Europe, Japan and the USA during the Cold War, (Essen: Klartext, 2007), (Oxford. New York: Berg, 2007) Ziemann Peace Cover(editor) Peace Movements in Western Europe, Japan and the USA during the Cold War, (Essen: Klartext, 2007), (Oxford. New York: Berg, 2007)

Aus dem Inhalt: Benjamin Ziemann Peace Movements in Western Europe, Japan and the USA since 1945. Holger Nehring Towards a Transnational Social History of „a peaceable Kingdom“. Peace Movements in post-1945 Britain Sabine Rousseau Les Mouvements de Paix en France depuis 1945. Un Objet de Recherche en Construction Wilfried Mausbach The Present‘s Past: Recent Perspectives on Peace and Protest in Germany, 1945 – 1973 Belinda Davis The Gender of War and Peace: Rhetoric in the West German Peace Movement of the Early 1980s Massimo De Giuseppe/Giorgio Vecchio Die Friedensbewegungen in Italien Volker Fuhrt Pazifismus in Japan – ein Auslaufmodell? Natalie Atkin From Margin to Mainstream: American Peace Movements, 1950s – 1970s Thorsten Bonacker/Lars Schmitt Politischer Protest zwischen latenten Strukturen und manifesten Konflikten. Perspektiven soziologischer Protestforschung am Beispiel der neuen Friedensbewegung


Module Leader

Imperial Germany, 1871-1918, HST283 (Level Two module)

Imperial Germany, 1871-1918, HST283

The aim of this module is to introduce students to the study of Imperial Germany. The (Second) German Empire, founded in 1871, was a period of contradictions. It comprised both a widespread belief in superstitious forms of religion, as exemplified by the popular resonance of apparitions of Virgin Mary in the 1880s, and some of the most innovative achievements in the sciences and humanities. The political system was characterised by the participatory effects of the introduction of universal male suffrage, which had no equivalent in any other major European country apart from France, and the persisting relevance of the Imperial court and traditional elites in the decision-making processes.

The module will discuss these contradictions, and will built on a rich historiography which has discussed the possibilities and problems of political and social reform. Key topics which are crucial for an understanding of these debates will be covered, such as the party system and the electoral culture of the Reich, the structure and sociability of the bourgeois middle class, the forms and impact of social militarization, and the emergence of radical nationalism from the 1890s. Particular attention will be paid to the importance of confessional conflicts and identities in Imperial Germany and to the First World War as a social and political crisis.

1968 in Western Europe: Rebellion and Upheavel, HST2013 (Level Two module)

1968 in Western Europe: Rebellion and Upheavel, HST2013

'1968' is an emblematic date, signifying political upheaval and mass demonstrations, strikes, cultural rebellion and protests against the war in Vietnam. The module will analyse the significance of 1968 as a dense sequence of events which affected many aspects of social, political and cultural life in Western European societies. The module will focus on selected political incidents and their cultural and artistic reflections in France, England and Germany, and explore some of the political controversies surrounding the events of 1968. It will draw on a wide range of primary sources (both textual and visual), including pamphlets, eyewitness reports, and songs.

The Weimar Republic – Laboratory of Modernity, HST3071/3072

The Weimar Republic – Laboratory of Modernity, HST3071/3072

The history of Weimar Germany has often been portrayed as an almost permanent crisis and the ultimate demise of parliamentary democracy. But the Weimar Republic was more than just a polity and economy in crisis. It was also a laboratory of modernity, a site of permanent experimentation in politics, the arts and mass media, in gender relations and in attempts to built new communities. These experiments and their attempts to come to grips with the modern condition have also resulted in an extremely diverse and rich artistic and intellectual production, from Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht to Otto Dix and Siegfried Kracauer. The module will examine key topics in the political participation and symbolic representation of this classical modernity. It will explore these issues in a broadly conceived perspective, drawing upon a broad range of contemporary source material, both textual and visual. One key aim of the module is to allow students to think outside the box, to engage with a familiar topic from an unexpected and fresh angle.

Voices of the Great War: Violence and Experiences in Great Britain and Germany, 1914-1919, HST689 (Postgraduate module)

Voices of the Great War: Violence and Experiences in Great Britain and Germany, 1914-1919, HST689

The front-line experiences of soldiers in the Great War have for a long time been the subject of intensive scholarly debate and scrutiny. This module will focuse on one particular aspect of this vast field, the ways in which violence was exercised, experienced and expressed in languages of victimisation, sacrifice and male bonding. The module will take a comparative approach, comparing British and German soldiers at the Western front. The seminars will explore practices of violence as well as contemporary debates about the impact of trench warfare on the troops and wider society. Special attention will be paid to the analysis of primary sources (letters, diaries, images) which shed light on these issues, and a methodological consideration of their advantages and pitfalls.

Designing a Doctoral Research Project, HST6027 (Postgraduate module)

Designing a Doctoral Research Project, HST6027

This module is designed primarily for students who intend to go on beyond the MA to study for a research degree and hope to apply for external funding. It introduces students to the essential skills of devising, contextualising and organising a research project, including the identification of appropriate source material. Students are given advice on how to present the originality, intellectual purpose and research context of their project and shown how to present their ideas to best effect by writing proposals in the formats required by the major UK funding bodies for the humanities.

Modernity and Power: Individuals & The State in the Modern World, HST6603 (Postgraduate module)

Modernity and Power: Individuals & The State in the Modern World, HST6603

This core module introduces students to the challenges of studying modern history at an advanced level. It explores the distinctiveness of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a period, the study of which raises particular questions about perspective and interpretation, about the relationship between academic history and public understandings of the recent past, and about the selection and treatment of sources across a wide range of media. Classes will focus on some of the key themes and developments in recent historiography, including an engagement with the use of interdisciplinary approaches, particularly in the study of contemporary history.

Public Engagement

Public Engagement

To Follow

In The Media

During the centenary of the Great War, Benjamin’s expertise in this field is repeatedly called upon in the media. He has been interviewed for a special issue of the Polish history magazine Fokus Historia Extra, issue 1/2014, on aspects of the German conduct of war and the treatment of soldiers of the Polish minority in the German army. He has given another interview on aspects of German war remembrance in the Weimar Republic for the online portal of the Gerda Henkel Foundation. And in March 2014, he has authored an op-ed piece on the significance of the Great War for the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. The newspaper Die Welt has discussed Benjamin's reinterpretation of the collapse of the German army in his recent book on 'Violence in the Great War' (in German, 2013). Benjamin has also been interviewed by the leading French newspaper Le Monde on the role of violence in the Great War.

Administrative Duties

Administrative Duties

Within the department, Benjamin has served in various administrative roles. He is currently director of MA Studies and a member of the University Senate.